Reviews & Experiences

Walking the Line Between Body Positivity and Body Shaming

Sierra Burgess is a Loser, the newest Netflix teen rom-com, follows Sierra (Shannon Purser), a high school student not at the top of the food chain, Jessica (Kristine Froseth), the perfect cheerleader with what turns out to have a monstrous home life, and Jamey (Noah Centineo), the football star who thinks he’s talking to Jessica for weeks but is actually being catfished by Sierra in a dubious scheme created by the two girls.  

Catfishing is making someone believe you’re someone different online. Sierra uses Jessica as an external facade because of her fear that she is ugly. Sierra is plus-sized, which is now contributing to the trend in entertainment where society overlooks the plus-sized women’s exterior in favor of her personality (ex: I Feel Pretty, The DUFF, etc.). Sierra Burgess is a Loser has received a lot of controversial reviews regarding who or what the film was trying to represent.

This production left me with a bad taste in my mouth, not because of acting or lighting design, but because I didn’t know what I was supposed to feel. I spend an hour waiting to see how this carefully developed female friendship would finally unravel and the writers threw it all away in the last twenty minutes by slipping into a backstabbing, mean girl trope. I am not a plus sized person, but my gut tells me that there is no way for this to be the proper reflection of those that are.

Natasha Polis (@Tashapolis) is a social media influencer primarily on Instagram and YouTube. While most of her work centers around pop culture, she continually stands up for body positivity and is happy to be a “curvy enthusiast.” Naturally, a film like this had high expectations in her eyes: “I was expecting a progressive movie not about body confidence, but about inclusivity of body diversity.”

Undoubtedly, the casting was a step in the right direction and many applaud the creators for casting both Shannon Purser and Chrissy Mets, but that is where empowerment ended for most audiences. As someone passionate about storytelling, Natasha simply said, “The writer’s intentions fell flat with tropes like girl hate, the token gay black friend, and telling people that if you hide behind your personality, you’ll be loved no matter what.”

These films would be more successful if casting directors “open[ed] any role to anyone, no matter what they look like.” This means that roles could be filled organically without the restrictions of needing an actor or actress who physically fulfills x, y, and z. Body types do not change the fact that humans deserve equal treatment and the goal is to stop antagonizing others for not fitting specific perceptions of a character.

In Polis’ eyes, Sierra Burgess is a Loser treated plus size women no different than any other movie. As a writer, having a sense of understanding for your character’s struggles can make or break attempts at representation. Even if a film or novel is based on a true story, it can be elevated so it is not another recyclable film that lacks impact.

“The problem with bringing body positivity into the entertainment world is that so many people hate fat people. They hate the word “fat.” Create a film that doesn’t focus on body size, but [focuses on] dreams, ideas, and hopes.” So many hopes could have been explored in the film, but because it was so fixated on this battle between internal and external beauty, those passions were set aside as buffers.

Body size discrimination cannot be traced back in history the way racism or sexism can, but the unspoken idea is that “being fat is being unhealthy. Yes, there’s morbid obesity and that’s unhealthy, but the national average is a size 16 and you have no idea what their lifestyle is.” Society has an unhealthy habit of judging people, and hearing about it incessantly inspired Natasha to promote activism. “When you under-represent or represent someone wrongly, people associate it with that type of person.” Sierra Burgess is a Loser failed to reach that level of representation and despite those failings, it is another movie to add to the puzzle that is “how do we represent this community?”

“We’re humans, and no one can be perfect,” Polis said. “We are attracted to beauty and it’s so interesting how something or someone unappealing in our eyes can be so vehemently hated on.” Hate is a strong word. I didn’t hate Sierra Burgess is a Loser, but it disappointed me and somehow that emotion is much stronger. It is a film worth studying and watching, but it is not a film to go into with euphoric hopes for diversity.

%d bloggers like this: